I just spent an hour at Amazon. Not on Amazon, at Amazon.
As an author with a second book release upon me, I study book marketing up close hence I just had to make a pilgrimage to Los Angeles’ first physical Amazon bookstore. It opened two weeks ago as part of the Westfield Century City Mall‘s universally talked about staggering 1$ Billion re-model (…and we thought retail was dead).
I was doubtful when I initially heard about Amazon going into physical storefronts thereby going back to the business model they once so successfully disrupted many years ago. Well, my doubt was quickly turned into exhilaration as Amazon did not simply open a storefront, they changed the way consumers experience products offline – with a whole lot of help from online insights.
Amazon successfully and holistically transformed what worked online into a physical brand experience. It took full advantage of its massive amounts of data, to my delight. At the AmazonBooks store, you are greeted with shelves titled ‘Highly Rated – 4.8 Stars & Above’ or ‘100 Books to Read in a Lifetime – Our Picks from the Amazon.com List.’ Not surprisingly, it works and it pulls you into a curated, and more importantly, customer-verified, experience. Do you trust that Maggie from the local bookstore has a ‘Staff Pick’ or do you trust hundreds, thousands, millions of readers just like yourself? Sorry, Maggie, I am all up for supporting local stores, but that was an easy pick.
Not so quick though, as Amazon knows it needs to, and should, make the experience a local one. ‘Read Local – Notable and Highly Rated Los Angeles Books’ as well as top-rated books from readers in L.A. are showcased prominently. Another nice touch is Amazon’s integration with the online reader community of Goodreads, albeit logical as Amazon acquired the site in 2013. Still, seeing ‘Goodreads Most-Read Classics’ and ‘Book Club Picks from Goodreads’ adds more intrigue to the books stacked in traditional bookstore style underneath. Each of these components engages, builds trust, and keeps you in the store longer.
But let’s not paint a picture of Amazon showcasing only the proven books, by the biggest authors, on their rather limited shelf-space. You’ll see books of unknown authors, some that are rated only a few times, next to the big sellers. One book particularly stood out (Innovating by Luis Perez-Breva and Nick Fuhrer) as Amazon’s description reads ‘100% of reviewers rated this item 5 stars.’ The book only had 21 reviews in total. This makes me feel like I am discovering something, which is one of the key ingredients of a great book store.
Amazon also picks customer reviews to showcase, rather than the author’s book description, or an Amazon editorial review, which makes the experience even more personable.
The last store curation effort that made my heart speed up was the huge shelf-space dedicated to ‘If you like this, you’ll love these.’ A key component of the Amazon.com shopping experience, seeing a book you liked on a shelf with six you never heard of next to them, suggesting that you’ll love them is a sure-fire win in any customer browsing experience.
Besides taking away that Amazon has nailed its data integration into its retail environment – not to anyone’s surprise – what can you, as a CMO of a brand or as a startup entrepreneur learn and immediately utilize from its success?
Map your online customer brand experience, then take it offline.
It feels upside down, and precisely that is Amazon’s amazing ‘Zag’ in this instance. How do users behave on your site, what content do they read, what call-to-actions do they skip, which offerings do they spend the most time on, and so on and so forth. Study it. It’s there, you just have to start digging into it.
Then take that data and make use of it in all the ways you conduct business offline. As many of you don’t have retail stores that you can start experimenting with, you may think this is not applicable to your brand. Think again: sales presentations, prospect case study conversations, tradeshow experience designs, new product launch considerations, brand initiative ideas, brand narrative adjustments – you name it. That online journey can be a game-changer in the way you engage with your customer/consumer/member everywhere else.
Much has been said about leveraging latent data and creating actionable new data points for brands of all sizes to utilize, but the essence of what Amazon did is actually rather simple at heart: Study the trail your online users leave behind and use it to educate a new or revised, deeply educated and highly personalized offline brand experience.
What we learn from AmazonBooks is that these insights can even be used to craft a brand narrative for a new brand extension: Translating what works naturally online (‘if you like this – you may like that‘ as an example) for their brand and making it work as a novelty in an offline experience that is 100% true to Amazon’s brand essence. It’s not just connecting data for increased sales, it is doing so in a way that is intrinsically true to the core brand philosophy.
Amazon’s user journeys helped create an offline sub-brand. It may be time to look at your brand’s online data, create your user journeys and translate them into successful offline experiences. It will re-affirm, or re-educate your brand’s essence, or perhaps it will even inspire you to launch a new brand extension.
Until then, you can find me at Amazon as on Amazon is just too one-dimensional and old-fashioned.
Brand Positioning is an art form. It is essential to the success of your venture and it is a topic we have given you plenty of guidance on. Even when it comes to something as important as positioning, just like with most things branding, there are definite fads happening. Recently these dangerous turns in brand positioning have hit actual brand names, which we all know can not change easily over time. That kind of positioning, in a nutshell, sounds something like this:
“We are the best. Seriously, we are.” Oh crap! No, you are not.
Everyone thinks their product is the best, but the market will tell you if in fact you are the best. You don’t tell the market that, the market tells you that. It seems like a no-brainer, something no branding expert needs to call out, especially given the joined consensus of the next generation of buyers (to avoid the M-word) that believe in inclusivity, honesty and modesty. Yet we have seen a flood of new brands positioning themselves as being the best through their actual brand names over the past years. In doing so, there is no turning back for them and their ‘strategic’ cockiness.
Especially in the snack food arena, ‘greatness’ in name positioning has overwhelmed the market place. Here’s a sampling of four such brands that I ran into at the market the other day:
Despite their often superior ingredients, and sometimes great taste (sometimes the opposite), naming a new product ‘way better,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘epic,’ or ‘the best in the world,’ falls nothing short of uninspired.
That is one thing.
More important though is the fact that consumers find it hard to believe a new brand can make such claim. Naming your product in an overpromising manner will attract highly critical customers from the get-go. Guaranteed. And many who will mock you. Your strategy is asking for it. And very likely you won’t be able to satisfy their appetite for tasting ‘the best’ to them as that is solely depending on individual tastes. Such statement coming from a brand itself as part of their brand name does not gain trust and nearly assures that a let-down is imminent – especially for startups that lack shelf-space and marketing dollars to hope for intrigued one-time buyers potentially turning into converts.
If consumers are looking for the perfect snack bar, the best cookie or way better snacks (and who isn’t?), fulfill their quest instead by providing specific guidance on facts, ingredients and testimonials through your brand language and marketing campaigns. It is a safe guard to ensure that your product in fact will live up to their unique expectations. Instead of describing what you think differentiates your product (or makes it float high above the rest) in your brand name, position your brand name as one that consumers like to talk about without feeling funny or being ridiculed. It will spare you of the same fate.
(Pretty epic advice, right? Without a doubt the best post in the world.)
I recently had a brand consultation call (via Clarity) with a fashion accessory startup from Singapore working on a convincing new product that perfectly fits into a niche yet also has the opportunity to take over it completely.
If they ever get that far.
The startup needs to go head-to-head with the largest players in the space in order to succeed; a space where big brand names are key to morphing indecisive shoppers into on-the-spot buyers. I saw their value proposition after talking with them for ten minutes, but how will they ensure to get noticed in split seconds? Are consumers willing to pay the same for a new no-name brand as they would for the time-tested brand names one wants to be seen sporting? Heading towards major competition, I had one advice for her going into a saturated B2C/Retail market:
The big players can be sexy, smooth, sophisticated, glamorous, heck…they can be anything money can buy. Bigger displays, more massive campaigns, bigger celebrity endorsements, stupendous photo shoots. There’s one thing only you can, and they can’t: You can be BOLD.
It is a 4-letter word, and you can own many more of those if you’d like – and not in the fabricated manner FCUK did. Words others can only hesitantly type, you can actually be. They may go bold on a marketing campaign, but your brand can launch being bold – with an immense amount of attitude and moxie. You can shout. You can be loud. It might be the only way you’ll get noticed.
Look at your product and examine your competitors. Analyze the single most important and unique attribute describing your brand; an attribute you can own in your segment. Is it empowering, motivating, strengthening, enriching? Then look at what outrageous thing you could do to make your audience love you, that is based on this single attribute.
T-Mobile, who you’d think of as being far removed from being a startup, had to switch gears in recent years and started looking at themselves as a rebellious startup in order to survive, and thrive. And boy did they go bold and are crushing it today. Re-establishing themselves as the ‘Un-carrier,’ T-Mobile is throwing around the words free, included and unlimited just as much as Rebel-CEO John Legere says ‘those fuckers,’ describing the other big players in the field. Those players are the ones that are now falling behind. A short story about a large corporation trying to be as bold as a startup. So, what stops you as a startup from going bold?
Fear is the only reason why most startup founders don’t take the most rewarding risk of their lifetime. You are scared to fail. You are afraid to use crazy names (yes, unpronounceable products), make everyone who buys a first edition a shareholder, give away your product for free, launch it double the price of your biggest competitor, and on goes the list of outrageousness to chose from. But you are scared to take (hold on, bonus 4-letter word magic coming up) risk.
Take a step back and analyze your situation: Only you can do it because you have very little to lose by going all-in, full-on bold. All you can gain is customers that not only like your stuff, but love it. They will build a small army of early brand ambassadors for you. For free. That is, in return of you going totally bold and having no fear. Modern consumers ache for brands like that, we all do.
When you analyze your competition, look at what bold steps they have taken lately that are not shallow campaigns, but actually built on true brand beliefs. You may notice that this is a weakness your startup can turn into its key strength. But first: Drop that fear.
‘Is branding the key for a successful start-up?‘ is the topic for a speech I was asked to give at Internet Hungary this week. I could make it a 5 second speech and say ‘Yes, it is one of the most important factors,’ but lucky for me the topic is broader and will go deeper into the keys of creating a successful brand. Let me use this opportunity though to dive knee deep into this question as some brand elements are more important to certain types of companies at time of launch than to others:
No one shall skip the Brand Platform creation at the onset of a new venture, unless you want to compete on price, be boring and unattractive to work for, and are not keen on acquiring the right target audience at time of launch. You tackle the Brand Platform right after you draft your business plan (from fully fleshed out to napkin version – all are acceptable forms of business plans at this stage, depending on your own comfort level).
Launching with a meaningful and unique Name and Brand Identity Design seems like a no-brainer, a must for all entrepreneurs. If for whatever logical reason (budget not being part of that logic) you feel forced to launch with a sub-par name and logo, knowing you will have to go through a (more costly) re-naming and re-branding exercise upon showing first successes, it is the easiest to do for a tech startup or B2B venture that requires solely test users or relies on a very small niche audience, which will make it easier to educate them on this big and disruptive brand change down the road. Some Tech Startups (especially apps) are prototyping until the day of launch, making it an easy excuse to skip this essential step, whereas it is much more advisable to work on a prototype whilst formulating the brand platform, that way you are educating yourself about the target audience while you see them use the actual product, enabling you to create a meaningful brand that will not have to be rebuild soon thereafter. A win – win.
Needs for Brand Atmosphere Touch Points vary in importance and specifics from company to company with retail and other mainly offline B2C companies leading the list, E-Commerce and Tech Startups surviving off some basic, consistent touch points bundled with heavy E-Marketing template creations, while most B2B brands fall anywhere in-between, depending on their structure and audience. If bootstrap is your motto, these can be rolled out over time, making it essentially more pricey, but allowing you to spread the cost.
It only makes sense that ventures leading with digital need to make UI/UX Design part of their strategic brand implementation. Most companies – B2C/Retail and B2B – rely heavily on brand-centric (responsive) web sites to attract and convert leads of different types. For Online Retailers and Tech Startups where the web site also is the product, the prototyping should be addressed in parallel with the Brand Platform creation as it will educate the branding process as a whole. Some companies are able to save on development costs using existing WordPress templates (and such), but brand will still be key at launch.
To conclude, whenever a startup founder tells me (and they tell me all the time) “I can not afford branding at this early stage of my company formation” I reply with “No, you cannot afford not to brand at this early stage of your company formation. Unless you think a strong brand is worth less at time of sale or IPO than an ugly yet functional prototype.‘ This often marks the end of our conversation, until they call a few weeks later to get started with branding their new venture.